Jennifer Lopez has been working for more than 30 years now, first as a Fly Girl dancer on the TV show “In Living Color,” then as an ascendent star in the biopic “Selena” and a leading lady in pictures like “Out of Sight,” and finally as an icon in her own right in music and film in the 21st century, a beauty of Puerto Rican heritage with the smile of a conqueror and a proudly flaunted body that won’t quit.
In “Halftime,” a documentary from director Amanda Micheli, Lopez is seen rehearsing for the halftime show at the Super Bowl and talking about the challenges of her life and career as she also does interviews and appears at award shows for her hit movie “Hustlers,” for which she is told again and again that she will likely receive an Oscar nomination.
“Halftime” details the various frustrations Lopez deals with when she is asked to share the stage with pop star Shakira, which is seen as a gesture of disrespect from her long-time manager Benny Medina, and her battle with the NFL to keep a political statement about immigration in her performance. Lopez says here that she doesn’t like to talk about politics, but when she saw children being kept in cages at the Mexico-US border, she felt the duty to include a counter-image to this horror while still giving the crowd the requisite razzle-dazzle.
Lopez is extraordinarily likable here: tough, self-aware, guarded, and very proud — quite a few moments in “Halftime” view her in little to no makeup. At a key moment, we see Lopez walking a fashion runway in a version of the green Versace dress that is probably her most famous look, and there is something about the way she charges forward and flares the skirt of the dress in back of her that can only be called stunning, a word that shouldn’t be overused.
Looked at one way, this is simply a woman walking forward with extreme confidence in a diaphanous green gown, but somehow something else seems to be revealed: will power in the flesh. Lopez is larger-than-life as she walks in that dress, as intimidating and awe-inspiring as a waterfall. And that’s maybe part of her problem with some sections of the press and the public. She is not what Hollywood likes to call “relatable,” in spite of her status as a Latina trailblazer. Lopez is an aspirational sort of classic-Hollywood type of star, and that sort of star has always been a little intimidating.
Lopez did not get her Oscar nomination for “Hustlers,” and that pains her in “Halftime,” but she keeps on going and keeps on fighting. Forerunner love goddesses like Rita Hayworth and Raquel Welch didn’t get Oscar attention either, and like them, Lopez is known for glamour. If she really wanted this recognition, or if this were really a goal not put on her by others, Lopez might have gotten her Oscar nod by signaling her seriousness with some de-glammed role rather than the Amazonian criminal stripteaser she played in “Hustlers,” yet that would not have been true to her lush image or her pleasure-giving nature.
The Oscars are looking increasingly irrelevant, and Lopez really doesn’t need that old-fashioned seal of approval from a group that still fetishizes thin blonde women; it seems to be no coincidence that when she loses her Golden Globe for “Hustlers,” it is Gwyneth Paltrow who is presenting that award. Lopez is better at old-style glamour than any of her fair-haired contemporaries, yet still she is made to feel like an outsider by this peripheral group.
There have been very few Latino performers who have been nominated for Academy Awards, and even fewer have won. There were victories for José Ferrer and Anthony Quinn in the 1950s, and Rita Moreno and Ariana DeBose both won for playing Anita in “West Side Story,” with a gap of 60 years in between. If Lopez had “Selena” in release today, surely she would be nominated by the biopic-loving Academy, but when her “Selena” director Gregory Nava approached Warner Brothers about launching a campaign for her in 1997, he says that he was told, “She deserves it, but the Academy will never nominate her. They’ll never nominate a Latina.”
The ultimate meaning of Lopez’s life and career is still up in the air, a status suggested by the title “Halftime.” At one point here Lopez frankly discusses the various personas she has tried on, one of which she refers to as “Don’t write me off.” And we shouldn’t.
Even if you are not a particular fan of Lopez, she is likely to win you over in “Halftime,” which suggests that she has it in her to become an elder stateswoman like one of her idols, Rita Moreno. You know someone is a major star when they can seem to stop time just by walking across a room in a certain way, and “Halftime” proves that Lopez is certainly one of that select group.
“Halftime” is streaming now in the U.S. on Netflix.